The deadline for the next stage of the Petitions Committee process was upon us today. We have been beavering away all weekend, fine tuning our 9 page document that responds to the evidence sent in by the Government, the Royal Town and Planning Institute, Planning Aid for Scotland and Homes for Scotland, all of whom reject the idea of Equal Rights of Appeal in Scotland. Now that we have finished and sent in our response, all we can do is wait and hope that the Committee read it and act on our recommendations.
We have gathered evidence from the other side of the debate, i.e. people affected by planning decisions and those in favour of equality in planning. Several people sent in detailed case studies of their situations to the Committee which were really helpful in helping us to demonstrate how exactly Equal Rights of Appeal would help strengthen planning decisions.
You can read our response here, and keep an eye on the website as we’ll be publishing the case studies over the coming days.
One key concern was that the Committee only solicited evidence in the main from the ‘usual suspects’, i.e. professionals, developers and the Government, who in previous debates on ERA have come out clearly against. The sole exception to this was a rather lonely request for evidence from the Scottish Wildlife Trust. It was a disappointment that they chose not to consult with any representative communities at all, but this can be fixed. In our response we stated that
“The balance of committee-solicited submissions reflects a persistent bias in wider debates on planning reform in Scotland. We urge the committee to consider, and deliberate on, this relative absence of wider public voices, particularly individuals and communities directly affected by planning decisions made under the new system”.
Our key recommendation was to ask the Committee to review the way planning works for the public and to actively seek public views on their experiences.
Other topics we covered included
- The undue priority being given to property rights in the planning system
- How the design of ERA could resolve various concerns
- Why existing opportunities to participate are not sufficient
- The lack of evidence presented against ERA
- Why ERA won’t undermine the plan-led system and the goal of ‘frontloading’
- Why ERA will not cause undue delay
- Why ERA will not lead to vexatious appeals
- How our evidence illustrates a planning culture that undermines public participants
- Why ERA will not have negative effects on growth and investment
The case studies submitted are all examples of contested planning decisions. Such decisions require elected officials (or planners) to balance all relevant material considerations before coming to a judgment about where the public interest lies. This is not an objective or fact based process. Existing appeal rights recognize this and can lead to ‘weak refusals’ of planning permission being overturned.
At present however, ‘weak approvals’ are not subject to scrutiny.
The case studies we will publish over the next few days will illustrate the scope for ERA to test these ‘weak approvals’ and help assure that the concerns surrounding a development are mitigated as far as possible.
Finally in our submission we state that although Equal Rights of Appeal are not a panacea for all the ills of planning, it can however bring substantial benefits. ERA can provide a level playing field that could enhance public trust in planning, help to ensure meaningful public engagement and strengthen planning decisions and a plan led system.
We hope that our arguments will not be easily ignored or dismissed and that the Petitions Committee will read our response carefully and at least consider the possibility of Equal Rights of Appeal.